What is a half term ‘circuit break’?
What parents need to know about scientists' proposal for a two-week national lockdown over half-term
With a large number of schools starting half term as soon as next Friday, confirmation of whether a national “circuit breaker” will go ahead is now pressing.
This week, Sage, the government scientific advisory group, have proposed a nationwide lockdown in October during the half-term break as a way to contain a second wave of rapidly spreading coronavirus infection.
But what would an extended half-term mean for parents? And how would it work?
What do scientists mean by a ‘circuit breaker’?
It would be a national lockdown for a limited period, as opposed to the local lockdowns operating currently, and the proposal is it lasts for two weeks.
It is most likely that all pubs and restaurants would shut and people would be advised to only use public transport where strictly necessary, in order to bring down the rate of infection. As per the original lockdown which started in March 2020.
When would it be?
The current suggestion is that the ‘circuit break’ would run over an extended two-week half-term from 23 October. This would be a national timeframe and so schools who break up earlier than 23 October – such as a large number of private schools who end the term on 16 October – could see their pupils off for three weeks.
Who has made this proposal?
Sage scientists have made the proposal and, according to this report, it is widely supported by heads, teachers and school governors. Scientists from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies have said the ‘circuit break’ closure is the best way to keep the schools open for longer and avoid a full second lockdown.
Former government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson said on Tuesday (6 October) that “if we want to keep schools open, we have to reduce contacts in other areas of society.”
Would it replace local lockdowns?
Yes. Over 10 million people across the UK are living under local restrictions, covering parts of Scotland, the North West and North East of England, Yorkshire and the Midlands, although schools have remained open unless an outbreak has been traced to classrooms. Two-thirds of the population of Wales are also now living under additional measures.
Many say the national ‘circuit break’ would be more effective not only because it would encompass the vast majority of the population but because local lockdown rules have been branded “confusing” and a one-rule-for-all 'circuit break' lockdown would be clear and potentially more likely to be adhered to by the majority of population.
What would its impact be schools and learning?
Expert feedback on the proposal is mixed in terms of its impact on children, many of whom have already missed significant periods of school in 2020. One Sage scientist is reported to have said that “as schools will be closed for one week at half-term, adding an extra week to that will have limited impact on education.” Others have warned that closing schools will be highly disruptive for both learning and wellbeing.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told Tes that, with half-term "nearly upon us", there would be important logistical considerations to resolve and arrangements to put in place.
For example, he asked, would the additional week be an extended holiday, or would schools be expected to stay open for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children?
Would schools need to provide remote education for all other pupils?
What do teachers think?
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, has said that "if Sage recommends a two-week half-term to suppress Covid and support safer schools and colleges, the NEU would support this".
What do parents think?
“I work full time and arranging childcare when the schools are closed is a nightmare but if a ‘circuit break’ means my children then get a clear run at schools until Christmas, I would be very happy,” says Louise Marsh, a School Guide mother from Bristol with two primary aged children.
Tim Wright, from Southampton, disagrees with the proposal. “My daughter is due to sit her GCSEs next year and is already showing visible stress in terms of the pressure to catch up. An extra week doesn’t sound like a lot to scientists, but to pupils it could be make or break.”